Short Story: Heading North

Sweat rolled down Shannon’s neck, wetting the wisps of hair at her nape and soaking the collar of her white blouse.  In a matter of minutes she felt the hot dampness of her shirt cling to her back.  She squinted and raised her hand to her forehead.

“I don’t see anything but sand, James.  Nothing for miles.”  She bit her lip and scraped the dry, flaky skin against her teeth.  She reached for the water sack, unscrewed the cap and took several desperate mouthfuls.

“Be patient.  And don’t drink so fast.  If we’re one degree off we could be out here a lot longer than either of us want,” James said calmly, looking at the old silver compass clutched tightly in his left hand.  “We need to keep heading north.  We’ll be there in no time if we stay on course.”

The camels moved slowly up and down the waves of the snow-white sand.  Their hooves padded softly on the loose surface, their backs each laden with an inexperienced traveler and minimal gear.  This was an easy burden for the normally over-worked beasts.

Shannon gripped the saddle horn tightly and shifted her bum, sore after hours of rocking unsteadily on the back of the smelly, noisy animal.

“This was a mistake, James.  We’re going to get lost out here, and for what?  We don’t even know if anything is there.  We may not find anything.”

“Shut up.”

“Don’t tell me to –”

“Shut up,” he repeated, and motioned with a flick of his head to something behind them.  In the distance Shannon could barely make out a small, black shadow.  She looked back at James, worry etched in her brow.

“I noticed it about an hour ago.  It’s getting closer.”

Shannon twisted her torso, unwound her binocular straps and focused on the spot.

She spanned the horizon behind her.  “I don’t see it anymore,” she said finally.  At this point in the day, with heat melting over both of them and the nagging, never-ending thirst, Shannon couldn’t trust her senses.

“I mean, you don’t think what you saw was –”

“Yes, I do.  And we’re not in any position to fight.”  James stared down at the compass again. His knuckles were white – the only evidence of his stress.  Shannon could feel her chest tighten.  She looked at the miles and miles of empty landscape ahead of them.  Hills and valleys of powder – that was all she could see.  She turned her head back again and once more lifted the binoculars to her face.

“Nothing is there.  We’re seeing things.” She pulled up the reigns and her camel slowed to a stop.  She offered James the glasses.  “Take a look.  Look, damn it.”  His eyes narrowed and he shook his head.

Shannon sighed and awkwardly removed herself from her perch.  Swinging her right leg over and behind the neck of her camel, she jumped.  It wasn’t graceful and her feet stung on the landing. The camel snorted and shifted backwards.

“What are you doing?” James hissed.  “What – get back on and keep moving.  Are you crazy?  James stopped his camel, but remained mounted.

“I don’t see anything, James.  I mean, there might be something but I can’t tell anymore and it’s only a matter of time before it’s real and I won’t even know it.”

James awkwardly shifted the beast around so he could face Shannon.

“You are putting us at risk.  Stop talking nonsense.  Get back on and keep riding or we’re both dead.  Do you understand me?”

“That’s what he wants, James.  He knows how to survive and we don’t.  You said so yourself.  We need to take a minute to figure things out. Because if that was him you saw back there and we keep riding, he’s going to catch us.  We’re already dead.  We’re already –”

Red burst from her chest, painting her blouse with blood.  Her body heaved backwards from the blow.  She almost fell over, but fought for balance until finally she stumbled forward onto the legs of her camel.  Slowed down by the realization of her last living moment, she clutched the rough fur of the hind leg, noticing for the first time how the texture of his hair felt like straw.  “Thank you, James.  Thank you,” she said and dropped to the ground.  Her face thumped into the sand and the hot, dry dust of her deathbed filled her mouth.

“I’m sorry,” he said, lowering his pistol momentarily.  He looked at the still body of his friend before turning back to confront the horizon.  “I’m so sorry. ”  He lifted the barrel of the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

Overhead, the sun beamed down on the desert landscape, catching a spot in the sand that sent a blast of light into the blue sky.  A compass lay open, revealing a broken dial that for years had only ever pointed north.

~ Story by P.Barker

Clearly it’s dangerous Heading North.  How about these other questions?

What if we died before we lived?

Can a dream really help one man see into the future?

If the Orb is finished, will he finally get the girl?

 

All these questions and more will be answered in future short stories … coming soon!

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